A Few Surprises in the New Guantánamo Prisoner List

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

On February 20, my friend and colleague, the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, published a prisoner list from Guantánamo, which he had just obtained from the Pentagon, and which had not previously been made public.

The list, “71 Guantánamo Detalnees Determined Eligible to Receive a Periodic Review Board as of April 19, 2013,” identifies, by name, 71 of the 166 prisoners who were held at the time, and, as Jason explained in an accompanying article: Read the rest of this entry »

Guantánamo: Where Being Cleared for Release Means Nothing

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us – just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

First, the good news: on January 9, the Pentagon announced that the first Guantánamo prisoner to undergo a Periodic Review Board (PRB) had been recommended for release. The PRBs were first mentioned nearly three years ago, in March 2011, when President Obama issued an executive order authorizing the ongoing imprisonment of 48 prisoners without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial.

In issuing the executive order, President Obama was following recommendations made by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that he had appointed after taking office in 2009, who spent a year meeting once a week to review the cases of the remaining prisoners. Lawyers and human rights groups were appalled by President Obama’s decision to issue an executive order specifically authorizing indefinite detention without charge or trial, and were only vaguely reassured that, as compensation, Periodic Review Boards would be established to ascertain whether or not the men continued to be regarded as a threat, featuring representatives of six US government agencies — including the State Department and Homeland Security — who would hear testimony from the prisoners at Guantánamo via video link in Washington D.C. Read the rest of this entry »

On the 12th Anniversary of the Opening of Guantánamo, Please Write to the Prisoners

Every six months, I put out a call for people to write to the prisoners in Guantánamo, to let them know that they have not been forgotten, and to let the US authorities know that people are watching what they do at Guantánamo.

The letter-writing campaign was started three years ago by two Facebook friends, Shahrina J. Ahmed and Mahfuja Bint Ammu, and it has been repeated every six months (see here, here, here, here and here).

In previous calls for people to write letters, I specifically referred to the men still held as the “forgotten prisoners,” but I have not chosen to do so this time, because, last year, people began to wake up, in significant numbers, to the fact that Guantánamo is still open and to remember the men who had indeed been largely forgotten, at least since 2010, when the one-year deadline for President Obama’s promise to close the prison expired with a whimper.

Last year over a million people signed two petitions calling for the closure of Guantánamo (see here and here), and it was because of the prisoners themselves that their plight was brought back into the international spotlight. The prisoners did this through a prison-wide hunger strike, which reminded the world’s media that Guantánamo is a legal, moral and ethical abomination, a place where the men still held — 155 in total — are, for the most part, indefinitely detained without charge or trial, even though nearly half of them — 76 men — were cleared for release four years ago by the high-level, inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force. Read the rest of this entry »

Endless Injustice: Newly Announced Guantánamo Review Boards Will Be Toothless Unless Cleared Prisoners Are Freed

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us – just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

As the hunger strike at Guantánamo reaches the six-month mark, it is, sadly, apparent that President Obama has failed to act swiftly to release prisoners following his major speech on national security issues on May 23, when he promised, “To the greatest extent possible, we will transfer detainees who have been cleared to go to other countries.”

Since then, there has been some progress, just not enough. Last week it was announced that President Obama has notified Congress of his intention to release two Algerian prisoners, but 86 of the remaining 166 prisoners have been cleared for release since January 2010, when an inter-agency task force established by the president when he took office issued its report regarding the disposition of the prisoners, and all 86 need to be released.

I understand that Congress has imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, insisting that the administration must provide assurances that any released prisoner must be unable to engage in terrorist acts against the US. However, Guantánamo must be closed, as President Obama promised when he took office in January 2009, and the hunger strike must be brought to an end. Read the rest of this entry »

For Ramadan, Please Write to the Hunger Striking Prisoners at Guantánamo

Every six months, I urge readers to send letters to the prisoners in Guantánamo, and, as this is the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began July 8, there is no better time to write to the 166 men still held, the majority of whom have been on a hunger strike for over five months, protesting about conditions at the prison, and the failure of all three branches of the US government to free them or put them on trial.

In the last three years, just ten prisoners have been released, even though 86 of the men still held were cleared for release by the sober and responsible inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force, consisting of around 60 members of the major government departments and the intelligence agencies. Established by President Obama when he took office in 2009, the task force spent a year reviewing the men’s cases before reaching their decisions about who to release, who to prosecute, and, disturbingly, who to hold indefinitely without charge or trial on the basis that they are “too dangerous to release,” even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial. In the real world, what this means is that the supposed evidence is no such thing, and is, instead, a collection of extremely unreliable statements made by the prisoners themselves, and, more particularly, their fellow prisoners, as well as other intelligence reports of a dubious nature.

The Guantánamo Review Task Force’s report was published in January 2010, but it was not until last month that a document explaining which prisoners had been placed into which categories was released through FOIA legislation. I analyzed that document here, and noted which prisoners had been placed in which categories in the prisoner list on the CloseGuantánamo.org website. Read the rest of this entry »

The Guantánamo Review Task Force’s Decisions on Who to Release, Try and Hold Indefinitely Are Finally Released

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us – just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email. Also, please see our updated Guantánamo prisoner list here, which now, for the first time, provides the status of all of the remaining 166 prisoners, based on the “Final Dispositions” of President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force (dated January 22, 2010, but only made publicly available on June 17, 2013) indicating whether they have been cleared for release, whether they have been designated for indefinite detention without charge or trial, and whether they were recommended for prosecution.

On June 17, 2013, through FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) legislation, a long-standing mystery was solved — the identities of the Guantánamo prisoners recommended for trial, for indefinite detention and for “conditional detention” by the inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force that President Obama established after taking office in January 2009 — when the task force’s “Final Dispositions as of January 22, 2010″ were released by the Department of Justice.

The “Final Dispositions” document contains the names of 240 prisoners, one short of the total number of prisoners held when the the task force began its deliberations — that extra prisoner being Ali Hamza al-Bahlul, who was convicted after a one-sided trial by military commission in November 2008, at which he refused to mount a defense, and given a life sentence.

Of those 240, the task force, in its final report in January 2010, recommended 156 for release, 36 for trials and 48 for indefinite detention without charge or trial, but did not reveal which prisoners were assigned to the various categories.

71 were subsequently released, and three died, leaving 166 men still held. Read the rest of this entry »

“No Indefinite Detention at Guantánamo,” US Claims, Defying Reality

We live in surreal times. President Obama, who promised “hope and change,” has, instead, proven to be a worthy successor to George W. Bush as a warmonger and a defender of those in positions of power and authority who authorized the use of torture.

In addition, when it comes to another hallmark of Bush-era crimes — indefinite detention without charge or trial, for those that the Bush administration identified as “enemy combatants” — President Obama has gone further than his predecessor.

After the sustained paranoia of the first few years after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush found his policies challenged by the Supreme Court, and subjected to international criticism, and began to back down. Obama, however, having promised to close Guantánamo, but then having discovered that it was politically difficult to do so, has contented himself with finding justifications for continuing to hold the 166 men still at Guantánamo, possibly for the rest of their lives.

This is in spite of the fact that over half of them (86 men in total) were cleared for release by an inter-agency Guantánamo Review Task Force established in 2009 by President Obama himself, consisting of around 60 officials from the main government departments and the intelligence agencies, who met every week to examine the prisoners’ cases, and to decide who should be released, who should be tried, and — shockingly — who should continue to be held without charge or trial, on the basis that they were too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence existed to put them on trial. Read the rest of this entry »

The Relentless Importance of Closing Guantánamo

I wrote the following article for the “Close Guantánamo” website, which I established in January 2012 with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

Two weeks ago, there was a flurry of activity in the mainstream media when it was announced that the State Department had reassigned Daniel Fried, the special envoy for closing the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo, and would not be replacing him. As Charlie Savage explained for the New York Times, “Mr. Fried’s office is being closed, and his former responsibilities will be ‘assumed’ by the office of the department’s legal adviser,” according to an internal personnel announcement.

The Times article continued: “The announcement that no senior official in President Obama’s second term will succeed Mr. Fried in working primarily on diplomatic issues pertaining to repatriating or resettling detainees appeared to signal that the administration does not currently see the closing of the prison as a realistic priority, despite repeated statements that it still intends to do so.” Read the rest of this entry »

Will Guantánamo Ever Be Closed?

Nearly eleven years after the Bush administration’s “war on terror” prison opened on the US naval base at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, its much-mooted closure seems as remote as ever.

Last week, there were encouraging noises, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, presented a report prepared by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), looking at the feasibility of housing prisoners in the US. The report found that there were 104 suitable facilities; 98 run by the Department of Justice, and six by the military. Releasing the report, Sen. Feinstein said, “This report demonstrates that if the political will exists, we could finally close Guantánamo without imperiling our national security.”

On the military side, there are three Naval brigs — at Charleston, South Carolina, Chesapeake, Virginia, and Miramar, California — as well as the correction facilities at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas and Lewis-McChord in Washington, and the Disciplinary Barracks at Leavenworth. In total, these facilities are almost half-empty. Read the rest of this entry »

Who Are the 55 Cleared Guantánamo Prisoners on the List Released by the Obama Administration?

I wrote the following report exclusively for the “Close Guantánamo” campaign and website, which I established in January with US attorney Tom Wilner. Please join us — just an email address is required to be counted amongst those opposed to the ongoing existence of Guantánamo, and to receive updates of our activities by email.

POSTSCRIPT January 2013: The Center for Constitutional Rights has confirmed that a 56th prisoner was added to this list after its initial drafting — Djamel Ameziane, an Algerian mentioned below.

UPDATE March 14, 2014: Please note that this list of 56 men cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force (plus the 30 other Yemenis cleared for release but held in “conditional detention” until the authorities are satisfied that the security situation in Yemen has improved) reflected the situation at Guantánamo from the time of its publication in October 2012 until August 2013, when two Algerians on the list were released, followed by eight other cleared prisoners in December, and one more in March 2014. I have noted who has been released on the list. As a result of these releases, there are now 76 cleared prisoners (46 plus the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”). For a breakdown of who is who (including the identities of the 30 Yemenis in “conditional detention”), see the “Close Guantánamo” prisoner list.

On September 21, lawyers for the Guantánamo prisoners — and others who had been watching Guantánamo closely — were completely taken by surprise when, as part of a court case, the Justice Department released the names of 55 of the 86 prisoners cleared for release from Guantánamo in 2009 by President Obama’s Guantánamo Review Task Force.

The Task Force was made up of officials and lawyers from all the relevant government departments and from the intelligence agencies, and its final report was issued in January 2010. Of the 166 prisoners still held, 86 of those were recommended for release, but are still held, and the list reveals, for the first time ever, 55 of those names. Read the rest of this entry »

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, filmmaker, photographer and Guantanamo expert
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